Parishioners of the Mother of God Church protest against injustice
Parishioners of the Mother of God Church in Taichung’s Nantun district have stepped up efforts to block a company from developing land owned by the Church. The Church has repeatedly rejected its inclusion in a redevelopment project led by the Yungchun Private Redevelopment Group dating back to 2008. The dispute, which has entered the courts and to which the Church is appealing their case for ownership of the land, came to a head earlier this month when a company excavator struck and damaged an enclosure wall. Hundreds of angry parishioners demonstrated during Holy Week, holding placards denouncing the company. About 10,000 Catholics and clergy from across Taiwan have since signed a petition to block what they say is the company’s unjust acquisition of the Church’s land. Parishioners say they believe the company actually intends to take away half of the Church’s 4,350 square meters of land and use it for commercial purposes. They further note that the company has taken half the land without compensation, and that the Church can only regain control of 20 percent of it by paying US$950,000. Father Mbwi Khohi, a Congolese priest who was assigned to Nantun district in 2008 and has spearheaded efforts to block the project, has called on the local government to review the situation. “I have no comment if they take way our land to build facilities for orphans, the elderly or the homeless. But if they sell it for their own interests, I would object to that to the very end,” he said at a press conference earlier this month. Tseng Kuo-chun, director of the Taichung Land Adminstration Bureau, said in response to local media reports that this month that more than 50 percent of land owners affected by the project had approved of the construction, even after eliminating from consideration the more than 100 names that parishioners say have been fabricated by the company. Kao Meng-ting, a university professor and consultant working with the Church, said the parish has existed for half a century and has contributed substantially to pastoral, educational and counseling services in the district. But given such contributions, “the parish has no right to participate [and] has to forcibly cooperate with the redevelopment group,” he said. “It is very unjust. In contrast, another religious building in the area – an ownerless Taoist temple – will be preserved completely, and will receive an addition of a car park and square.” Fr Khohi said the issue has become one of protecting what rightfully belongs to the Church from those seeking to profit unjustly. He has further called for a government investigation into whether local officials are guilty of dereliction of duty for approving the redevelopment project.